A simple dietary strategy for keeping periods happy, healthy and regular.
For women, menstrual health is a vital sign, in the same way proper heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, and temperature are measured. Menstrual cycles are our own personal indicators of the complex communication between the brain and endocrine organs, including the thyroid, adrenal and ovaries. When the body's hormones are well balanced, periods should be relatively painless and manageable, without cramping or heavy bleeding. The days leading up to menstruation should have minimal premenstrual symptoms, or PMS.
A simple dietary addition can optimize menstrual health to support the entire menstrual cycle, from ovulation and fertility, to PMS and menstrual or perimenopausal concerns. The method is called Seed Cycling. But first, let's explore what is considered a normal cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle, Explained:
A woman's menstrual cycle is regulated by an intricate system of signaling factors and hormones. At a basic level, the body requires sufficient estrogen and progesterone at specific parts of the cycle in order to initiate menstruation. On average, monthly cycles are approximately 28 days long, with 5-7 days of bleeding and ovulation occurring on day 14. Cycle lengths that are longer or shorter than average are still considered of normal length if they fall between 24-35 days.
The menstrual cycle is divided into 2 phases. The first phase (follicular phase) lasts from menstruation until ovulation. During the follicular phase, an egg matures an ovarian follicle in preparation for release and fertilization. This process requires proper amounts of follicle stimulating hormone and estrogen. The second phase is called the luteal phase, and lasts from ovulation until the beginning of menses. This phase is named after the structure that produces progesterone, the corpus luteum. During ovulation, an egg is released from its follicle through the fallopian tubes into the uterus for fertilization. If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum begins to disintegrate. This sends feedback signals to prepare the uterus for menstruation and thus the cycle begins again!
Is Birth Control a Band-aid?
When it comes to cycle regularity or painful periods, many women are prescribed birth control, either with oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices, to control their symptoms. Birth control works by quieting down the body's production of hormones by supplying a steady dose of synthetic hormone, thus preventing ovulation and the natural production of sex hormones. In some cases, this is medically necessary. However, if a woman is taking birth control medications for cramping or irregular periods, the underlying issue will be masked by the medication. Upon stopping birth control, her menstrual state will typically return to the same symptoms. In these cases, it's best to leave birth control to what it is intended for-- preventing pregnancy!
Menstrual Tune Up
Menstrual irregularities can occur from time to time. They can be caused by a number of factors. Sometimes the menstrual cycle can be disrupted due to stress or illness, causing skipped ovulation or a delayed period. At home period maintenance may help to get a cycle back on track.
The Seed Cycling Method:
Seed cycling is a dietary technique to support healthy menstrual cycles. It uses a biphasic approach, meaning there is a rotation halfway through the cycle. The nutrients from the seeds support the body's own production of hormones throughout the cycle to help restore healthy menstrual rhythms and stronger communication between organs. It promotes proper production and detox of hormones too.
From Menstruation to Ovulation - Day 1-14: flax seeds or pumpkin seeds
Post Ovulation until Menses - Day 15-28: sunflower or sesame seeds
Two tablespoons of ground seed are consumed daily. The grinding process releases oils and phytonutrients to make the necessary hormones during the corresponding phase of the menstrual cycle. Flax and pumpkin seeds support the follicular phase’s signaling of estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. Sunflower and sesame seeds support progesterone.
- Day 1 is considered the first day of heavy bleeding.
- The method always restarts when Day 1 occurs.
- Pre-ground seeds should be kept in the refrigerator to prevent the healthy fats from going rancid.
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds should be raw, and can be chewed thoroughly instead of ground.
- Seeds can be sprinkled on salads or mixed in smoothies.
- Smaller amounts of sunflower butter or tahini can be used during the luteal phase instead of the seeds themselves.
Oil Cycling: An alternative to Seed Cycling
An alternative to seed cycling is to oil cycle. The strategy is the same, using fish oil during the first half of the cycle and evening primrose oil during the second half. When my patients are considering this strategy, I recommend that they use high quality oils that are cold pressed, wild caught or organic and that they are third-party tested to not contain contaminants, heavy metals, impurities or rancidity which can be pro-oxidative. Quality brands include Nordic Naturals and Carleson Labs.
Dr. Erin Carner
Disclaimer: This article does not replace medical advice from a licensed medical professional. Please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or at Canyonlands Natural Medicine to discuss whether this strategy is right for you.